My sister has come back from a walk in the woods in Oregon and is sitting in her trailer park, on a swing in front of a log cabin. I am in Brooklyn, in front of my computer in my loft duplex looking at budding trees surrounded by a miniscule amount of dirt in the middle of poured concrete. We are talking about the balance of inner and outer lives, of ponderers versus planners. She has been a ponderer, I have been a planner. Both of us often pine to be the other.
She has often had no money, but she has almost always had time. I have mostly made money but been strapped for time. Neither are ideal, but the middle is hard to manage. Many privileged people in Park Slope are trapped in the pricey lifestyles they have built, unable to jump off easily even if they're not necessarily loving what they have to lose. Likewise, people of less privilege, many who have chosen their more pondering lifestyles, many who are forced there by circumstances beyond their control, feel equally trapped. "Life is a trap," my sister said pithily, and for that she deserves a gold star.
The conscious life is often a crappy one. We are forced, if we look, to actually see. But, then, what to do?? There is no such thing as a perfect temple or church, but we want to believe. Schools and the perfect apartment never offer us nirvana, but we search for the best ones endlessly, researching and requesting more and more information so we can at least feel we've done our duty, feel we've tried in earnest to get the best, whatever we think that might be. We want to find the things that we guessed at in childhood games would make us "happy" when we had no clue. Turns out we don't know much more now.
A woman overheard me talking to the bartender at a great Italian restaurant at lunch where the mushroom crostini with truffle oil and fresh parmesan could actually be the answer to many of life's questions. She piped in with her own two cents on schools. She had opted out of the hard-to-navigate Brooklyn system, not choosing public or private, but creating her own home-school co-op with six other families for kids through third grade. They had hired a teacher but parental involvement was paramount as well. Was it perfect? Turns out, no. Parents are still crazy, even the ones who desire to do just the right thing.
"We're all crazy, just in different ways," I said. I realize that more and more as I call everyone I meet crazy and they label me the same. But this woman definitely deserved her gold star for trying something new, for trying to find a solution instead of just complaining about the many problems.
I myself have not come up with many solutions, I just like to rail on failing systems, on capitalism, fundamentalism, almost any ism I find. Even truisms are often totally false, I think.
I bought a book today, "Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy." I agree with author Eric Wilson's assessment that the puritanical "pursuit of happiness" notion has really become synonymous with a materialism that stands in stark contrast to relating to the world in richer ways, including, he offers, "embracing sweet sorrow."
I give gold stars to anyone I see crying as a general rule, both to help them see a brighter moment but also to reward their effort toward real feelings. If they let it out, who knows what beauty it will bring? Art is all the range of emotion from aching to ecstasy. So, if we let ourselves see outside our traps, is life.